Studies in the Bible and Jewish Thought

By Moshe Greenberg | Go to book overview

Another Look at Rachel's Theft of the Teraphim * 1961

In the long history of exegesis, Rachel's unexplained theft of Laban's teraphim-gods on the eve of Jacob's secret departure from Laban ( Gen. 31:19) has received many and curious interpretations. Josephus1 supposed that Rachel wanted them so as "to have recourse to them to obtain pardon" in case Laban overtook them. Genesis Rabba (ad loc.) credits the matriarch with the noble desire to purge old Laban of his idolatry. Later midrash 2 suggests more plausibly that she stole them to prevent their revealing to Laban that Jacob's household had fled -- for teraphim do speak, according to Zechariah 10:2.3 Frazer4 thought the theft was motivated by fear lest the gods might resent and punish the injury done to their owner. Other modern scholars suggest that Rachel wished to enjoy the protection of her hearth gods away from home.5 Gunkel elaborates: "It was the business of such teraphim to help the protégé in home and farm, to bless his family and flocks. Rachel believed that in stealing this image she was thus carrying along the Fortune of the house; and Laban would sooner have given up anything rather than this house-fetish of his, which he himself must have inherited from his father." For comparison Gunkel cites the story of the abduction of Micah's priest and teraphim by the migrating Danites ( Judg. 18), though, to be sure, there the divinatory value of the teraphim appears to be uppermost in the minds of the abductors.

While this view is certainly plausible, it must be admitted that no material, biblical or extrabiblicall, has yet been adduced in support of it, closely paralleling the tale in Genesis. Something more common-

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*
Dedicated to Professor E. A. Speiser in his sixtieth year.

-261-

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